The Rug Room, with Johanna. Karen Carr, Matt Lyons, Rex Nordheimer

“cuisinaire rods.” – Bill Mutch

“We used to use the cuisinaire rods as little catapults and shoot the little white ones across the room, using the long orange ones as a lever. Physics as well as math!” – Karen Carr

Bob Speiser

“Ruth Wishik, Marie Matthews, and most likely Cindy Walters drew me into a particular activity that would deeply change the way I thought about learning.  We took a group of children (ages maybe 7 through 10) to a nearby graveyard, where the earliest white settlers in our area were buried.  The idea was to make multidigit subtraction and place value numbers meaningful by subtracting dates on headstones.  How old, exactly, were these people when they died?  We had a big surprise.  Among the oldest graves, many adults died in their thirties, often with several of their children’s graves nearby.  What happened? 

We went to see the county clerk, to learn what we could from records that were still around.  After the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress did not have funds to pay its soldiers.  Instead, the veterans were given land on the frontier.  The county records showed when and where these veterans built houses.  Once they’d cleared their land, groups of settlers joined together to bring builders from outside.  The roads to reach their land were mainly still in use. Some of their houses, modified through time, were also still un use. Several East Hill people actually lived, we found, in what had since become of them. Sadly, during the settlers’ second or third winter, there had been an epidemic.  Hence the clusters of young people’s graves.

At school we’d had discussions about how to give our basic subjects local and specific meaning.  Here the meaning linked math to people, to history and land use around us.  Further it connected East Hill children, in person, on the spot, to the civil servants who protected our town’s documents.” – Bob Speiser

Karen Carr and Harry

“A teacher from the party took me to a table where three boys, maybe eight years old (one of them Mike Steinberg) tried to multiply whole numbers using Cuisenaire rods, wood rods in centimeter lengths from 1 to 10, each length coded with a different color.  I’d never seen our heard about such things.  How much is 5×6?  Or 7×8?  These children wanted, above all, to make sense. They wanted to convince each other that they’d got their products right.

But here, conversing with these eight-year-olds, I felt completely stuck. What I knew, or thought I knew, as a mathematician, about basic arithmetic could not possibly have made sense for these children. That hit me very, very hard. There must have been a huge gap in my understanding. 

So—my turn as learner—I asked three eight-year-olds to teach me what they knew about arithmetic with rods. Four hours passed very quickly, but I needed to learn more.  I came back the next day, and kept coming, soon as a volunteer.  I applied for a teaching position, and taught at East Hill the next year, on paper as an aide.” – Bob Speiser

Janet Fortress

“Tearing through the blue Wynroth math sheets, multiplying ever bigger numbers, until they wouldn’t give me any more.  Not sure why not.” – Peter Lichtenbaum

“(Because the teachers had fallen so far behind on marking them that there was a huge pile and it seemed hopeless.)” – Lynn Lichtenbaum

Math lesson for the staff! – with Dan Lee, Doug Dylla
I have no idea who this is, but they’re very cool!

“playing math games with Mr. Lee” – Rex Nordheimer

“Somehow, I didn’t learn much math.” – Leela Fireside

How did you learn your multiplication tables? “At home, before I got to East Hill.” – Anonymous

Published by Karen Carr

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.